Read 23 Hours Online

Authors: Kevin Riley

Tags: #zombie, #undead, #Thriller, #Zombie Apocalypse, #Action/Adventure

23 Hours

BOOK: 23 Hours
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23 Hours
By K. Riley

Copyright 2013 Kevin Riley

 

Chapter 1

 

“Damn that kid,” I muttered under my breath; not that he’d really understand what I was saying. And besides, it wasn’t his fault; he didn’t ask me to save him, if that’s what I was really doing. For all I knew I was just going to cause him to die an even worse death, maybe even at my own hands. Then again if it wasn’t for him I’d have already been dead. I went into that shack with absolutely no intention of ever coming out. My plan was to drink myself stupid over and over until the whiskey ran out and then, with my last bullet, save myself from that hell. So maybe it was him who had saved me, or doomed me to a more horrible death.

He gently tapped me on the shoulder and I hesitated before turning around. I knew what he wanted and sure enough the hunger showed in his eyes and in his grumbling belly. I tried to hide the anger I felt. It wasn’t his fault; he didn’t know any better. I mean he couldn’t have been more than 3 years old.

“Not now,” I said, shaking my head. The disappointment in his eyes was brutal but that was something I was just going to have to live with. When I went into that cabin I wasn’t supposed to need any more supplies and I’d used up what I had just trying to keep him from dying. Somehow I needed to get us some more provisions, especially food, and that meant going to the Town. Not that it would do any good. Food would keep us going a little longer, but the hospital was about a day away on foot, even more if we stopped by the Town. Judging by the bite marks on my arm we didn’t have that long. On top of that I really had no idea what kind of shape he was actually in. His fever wouldn’t go away, and his leg was badly mangled; there was no way to know exactly what happened to him before I came along. Even if I somehow lasted the whole trip, I didn’t know if he would.

“It’s time to go, buddy,” I said with as much enthusiasm as I could muster.

We were both exhausted but even with the bum leg he jumped on my back with the agility of a little monkey. I had to smile at that. I’d never had any kids of my own, and I wouldn’t think of bringing one into the world after all that mess, but something about that little boy’s attitude was almost contagious.

With him on my back I grabbed the burlap pack containing everything I owned. When push comes to shove, it’s amazing what you can get by with.

I also had to grab Excalibur; at least that’s what I called it. It was nothing like the mythical blade, I mean I made it from a wooden handle and an old lawnmower blade, but I liked the name. It was somehow fitting now that I was off on my own crusade.

The sun was just rising as I stepped through the doorway of that dilapidated shack, searching for any sign that one of the stragglers might be there. The shack was deep in the woods and most of the infected kept close to the cities but I still didn’t want to take a chance. Fighting one was difficult as is, with the boy it would be damn near impossible.

Hearing and smelling nothing, I took off down the trampled path. The infected weren’t usually bright enough to set an ambush on a game trail, mostly because that wasn’t the kind of game they were after, and the compacted earth made a hell of a lot less noise than wandering through the underbrush so I decided to keep following it as long as possible.

As we made our way through the trees I realized that under different circumstances it could have been almost beautiful; a peaceful walk in the woods with a bird or two chirping as the sun continued to rise. The gentle warming as the cool dew still hung on the leaves was actually quite nice. If it wasn’t for all hell breaking loose everywhere and death quickly catching up with me, I could have almost enjoyed it.

I froze mid stride as the birds suddenly went silent and my skin began to crawl. Instantly I ran to the nearest tree, swinging the boy off my back and hoisting him to the branch, just praying he wouldn’t fall out.

I had barely made it back to the path and pulled Excalibur in front of me before I could smell it. The stench of rotting flesh with a sickeningly sweet overtone was one you’d never forget. When some of their fluids oozed or sprayed across you it could take a week to get rid of that smell.

With a roar it leapt through the foliage with reckless abandon, its empty eye sockets black as night though in contrast its teeth were almost brilliantly white and sharp; like something from a bad nightmare. I hardly had a chance to brace myself as the thing hit me with more power than an NFL lineman. He was as big as one too so in honor of William “The Refrigerator” Perry I decided to call him Willie.

The pain was intense, practically paralyzing me as we slammed into the ground. He hit me so hard that we just kept rolling over and over. I wish I could take credit for it, but even though I didn’t do anything I somehow ended up on top of old Willie. By that point I wasn’t worried about another bite; my death was inevitable. But I wanted to die on my own terms so there was no way in hell I was going to let him kill me.

Unable to think of anything better, and Excalibur having been knocked from my hands, I just started punching, aiming for the empty eye sockets. It actually stunned him for a moment, and I thought I might have a chance, right before he tossed me off like a rag doll.

I rolled to a stop at the base of a nearly dead tree and struggled to my feet. Unfortunately I seemed to have taken the brunt of the damage in our little tussle as he just popped right up and launched himself at me again.

Outrunning Willie wasn’t an option so I took the only action possible and jumped straight up, hoping to find a branch and swing myself up before he had a chance to tackle me again. Fortunately my hands found one to wrap around, unfortunately it wasn’t nearly strong enough to hold my weight. The damn thing snapped immediately, sending me flailing back to the ground.

Willie was only two steps away as I brought up the broken branch in front of me and braced for impact. I don’t know how, but the branch found its mark, going straight through his eye socket. He howled in pain, a horribly unnatural sound, as he pushed himself up and swatted wildly at me. I scooted backwards and thought I might even get a slight reprieve, but had no such luck. He continued to flail his arms for a second but then immediately focused on me again, roaring once more before charging full force towards me.

Completely unarmed at that point I lashed out at the last second with a wild kick. That kick, along with Willie’s own momentum somehow managed to jam that stick even further through his skull and suddenly he just dropped.

I scrambled backwards, trying to get my feet underneath me before Willie could continue his attack, but he didn’t move. Even as I slowly stood up he remained motionless on the ground. Not wanting to take my eyes off him, I searched as quickly as possible for Excalibur and found it surprisingly close. Normally those beasts were much harder to kill. Bullets don’t do much good unless you get a good head shot, and even then it takes awhile for it to die. That’s why I prefer to use my blade, but even after you take its head, the body usually continues to attack for a minute or two, going berserker and flailing around like a frat boy in a mosh pit. That can last for several more minutes before it finally keels over. Something was different about that kill, though. I’d never seen one go down quite that easily.

Not wanting to take any chances I walked right over and with one swipe liberated Willie’s body from his ugly mug. The head was twice as big as a normal human’s, but that wasn’t unusual for these things. The virus was like a combination of rabies and steroids; steroids on steroids. Within twenty-four hours it’ll cause your heart to explode and then reanimate you, turning anyone into an undead superman; superhuman strength and enhanced senses and all that junk, and all you lose is your eyes and your life.

The way those things were able to hunt, though, I don’t think losing their eyes mattered at all. And really I wouldn’t mind the increase in muscle that the virus brings, but somehow the being dead thing just didn’t seem worth it. Not that I had a choice there, I was going to die anyways; I just wanted it to be on my terms. That’s why I had to get that kid to the hospital, and quickly.

Thinking of the kid gave me a sense of urgency, but while he was still up in the tree, I pulled out a knife to do a little impromptu dissection. It was only a butter knife but with a lot of work and too much time I had managed to put a real nice edge on it. I had a few others I had sharpened as well. Some people thought I was crazy for doing it, silverware being the new currency and all, but they were useful tools and I was even getting pretty good at using them as a throwing knife. I still preferred having Excalibur when I met one of the virus freaks, but the more weapons and skills I had, the better. Not that it mattered now. I had really wanted to learn to use even more weapons but with time being short and all, I knew it wasn’t going to happen.

With a grunt, and a little more effort than I’d like to admit to, I rolled Willie over and got to work on the hulking beast, jamming the knife in just below his ribs on the left side.

“Sorry about this,” I said as I started cutting deeper. It really was nasty business; at least half his flesh was peeling from his inflated muscles and white pus seeping from everywhere but I kept going.

The muscle was extremely tough but thankfully I didn’t have to cut too far into it before I found what I was looking for. A fresh spleen from one of the infected would be worth a lot to the right people, so I wrapped the thing in one of my last plastic baggies and threw it in my pack.

At that point there was only one thing left to do, go through his pockets. The infected tend to lose most of their clothes as their muscles grow and swell and by that time they’ve pretty much lost their mind so they don’t usually replace them, but some manage to retain parts of their clothes along with whatever was in their pockets at the time. Thankfully Willie’s appeared to be some high quality jeans so he still had his, or at least most of them.

The first pocket didn’t have much of anything, just a condom, some loose change that was no longer worth anything and what I assumed was a mint, but the second one made it all worthwhile. I was optimistic as soon as I felt the delicate chain, but I could never have hoped for such a nice specimen. Not only was the pocket watch silver, with finely crafted engravings, but it was one of the old fashioned mechanical ones; no batteries required.

Rolling him over again I saw the bulge of a wallet in his back pocket. Any money or credit card in it wouldn’t be worth a damn thing, but I was still wanted to check it out. It was a fairly nice black leather wallet that had somehow managed to avoid being soaked in the pus oozing from Willie’s body.

I knew I really shouldn’t but I decided to flip through the pictures stuffed into the plastic dividers. It seemed that Willie had been not only a husband, but also a father of two girls. The wife was supermodel hot, and the two girls had obviously inherited her looks. Willie wasn’t bad looking either before he got infected and together they made a picture perfect family, something I’d never have the chance to experience.

I tossed the wallet but placed the pictures in Willie’s hand before saying a quick prayer; I don’t know why. I’d never been a very religious person, but it just somehow seemed fitting.

 Sliding the watch into my pocket, I swung the pack over my shoulder and went after the kid. To my surprise he was still exactly where I left him. I had expected some hesitation, some fear after the little incident with Willie, but he jumped right down into my arms without the slightest uncertainty. The kid was tough; I had to give him that. I was a little shaken by what had happened, but it didn’t seem to have fazed him a bit.

I quickly juggled him and my bag around, trying to make things as comfortable as possible for both of us before taking off towards Town.

 

Chapter 2

 

Town wasn’t really a town; it was an old factory that a guy named Big Mike had converted into a one-stop-shop for all your wants and even some of your needs. He started with one store but then allowed others to set up their shops in return for a good percentage of the profits, but everyone ended up making a little money so it all worked out. It wasn’t the nicest place and under normal circumstances I wouldn’t have taken a kid there, but at that point we really didn’t have a choice.

After the big outbreak things went to shit pretty quickly. Before long you couldn’t find many of the things you used to take for granted. Processed foods, alcohol, even clothes got to be hard to come by, so some entrepreneurs started settings up shops wherever they could and the Town became one of the favorites. They had Ned’s Kitchen where you could get some food that was... well edible; that’s about the best I could say for it. They also had a couple places selling other supplies, weapons, blankets and trinkets, nothing real great. But they were really known for their alcohol and their “women”. Some of their alcohol, and their girls, might have been more dangerous than any of the infected roaming around but they never seemed to have trouble selling either even when the women turned out not to be women. Thankfully we were going to make it there before sundown so I’d be able to take care of business before most of the debauchery started and with the kid I wouldn't be tempted by anyone looking for a good time, woman or not.

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